I hate money. Rather, I sometimes get squeamish talking about it. I think it's a very private thing and am surprised when people discuss it so openly. Despite all that, a recent comment about prenuptual agreements as neccessary evils got me thinking about the role money plays in relationships, so I'll try to move beyond my comfort zone.
Part of the reason I don't like money talk is because I view it in a similar light to personal hygene: it's the individual's responsibility to be reasonably clean and presentable to society and it's also up to the individual to sort out their finances. Yet somehow I have been in relationships where someone else's money problems became my own.
The first time was in college. I was 19, he was 32. We'll call him Moz, because he could give Morrissey a run for his money with his moping skills. Moz worked a part-time retail job and couldn't afford to move into his own place, so he lived with his ex-girlfriend-- I cringe just to see how bad this looks all written out (at the time, yes, I did believe they were fully broken up). Since his ex was a "psycho bitch" (his words, not mine), our dates had to be surreptitious, which made it all the more romantic. Man, was I one dumb 19-year-old.
Moz frequently whined about his cash flow dilemma. I wanted to help. I clipped job ads for him; he would find excuses not to follow up and the one time he actually set up an interview he blew it off. I tried to be patient, but it baffled me that I was able to manage my small allowance better than he was able to handle his part-time salary (bearing in mind he was living virtually rent-free). Whenever we went out, we always paid our own way, but once he even asked me to buy him dinner, because he had no money on him. I did so, but it felt a little odd for me, a jobless college student, to be paying for her employed, considerably older boyfriend. Obviously, Moz and I had other problems besides his irresponsibility with money, but it ended up being the factor that made me stop seeing him. This wasn't a man who wasn't able make his life line up right, it was a man who was too lazy to do so. Last I heard, he's still in retail and still chasing after much younger women.
Then there was Poet Paul. For the most part, we had a very healthy and copacetic relationship; he is one of two men who I have lived with.
Poet Paul warned me early on that his biggest flaw was money troubles. Not only $15,000 worth of debt (which isn't a big deal, because I had more than twice that after college), but his attitude toward money. If he had it, he spent it. Payday would come around and he'd splurge on gadgets, books, CD's, round after round of drinks for friends. Then a period of modest living would follow, until the next check. He was generous to the point where I became suspicious that some friends were taking advantage.
Due to some complicated circumstances, I had to move out and we continued our relationship as a long distance one (Poet Paul was not based in NYC). He would follow me to New York within a year, he promised, just as soon as he paid off his debt and saved up some money. Six months into the year, I asked if he was any closer to minimizing his debt. No, he wasn't. Was there any chance, realistically, that he'd make any headway by the end of the year? No, there wasn't. Which means he wouldn't be able to move to New York for a long while. In fact, I found out my mother secretly gave him a thousand dollars so that he could visit me. I ended the relationship, seeing that it was going nowhere. I couldn't believe the ultimate reason it failed was because of money. Speaking of which, despite his heartfelt promises, he never paid my mother back.
Then there's my last boyfriend, Business Owner Brian. When I found out BOB was his own boss, I thought I might have finally found someone who was careful with his money. After all, with an inconsistent income, he had to budget himself carefully, right? Well...
He and I moved in together (by my admission way too soon) and he quickly noticed that he made a calculation error in the money he projected to make. He was off by a couple of thousand dollars. I had just started a new job, where I was making a salary that provided for my basic needs and was considerably more money than my previous job (so it felt like more than it was). I certainly didn't have enough to support both of us for a month or two, though. However, I felt guilty being able to afford to go out to movies, bars, concerts, and restaurants, while he had to scrimp. I felt bad and wanted him to be able to have as much fun as I did. Once again, I also felt strange that this guy, who was a decade older than me and knew the intricacies of running a small business, needed me to give him cash. I gave BOB a few hundred dollars out of my savings for day-to-day expenses and demanded he not bring it up again and only pay me back if he wanted to, whenever. We broke up a month later. Once again, there were reasons beyond money, but financials ended up being the factor that pushed the relationship into final destruction. He never paid me back, either, but I don't really care about that.
In case I sound even vaguely self-righteous, let me state right now that I can be pretty careless with money. Even though my student loans are nearly paid off, my credit card debt is getting a little out of control and I use plastic to enjoy a much better life than my media salary would normally afford. I don't balance my checkbook. I have a 401k, but couldn't for the life of me tell you how much money is in there. This morning I checked my wallet to see how much cash I had because I had no idea if I might be down to my last twenty. When I go out with friends, the only thing I keep track of, spending-wise, is making sure I have enough money for a taxi home.
Despite all my own financial flaws, I have never made it a problem for anyone I was in a relationship with (and hopefully never will). I was unemployed for months while I lived with Poet Paul and always paid my way, never needing to borrow money from him.
What puzzles me, even more than the fact that men who earn more money than I do can suck so much at managing it, is how much it weighs on a relationship. It's one thing for two people to stop loving each other or betray each other somehow, but for a relationship to end because of money is ludicrous, yet it's happened to me several times now.
Despite getting burned time and time again, I still hate the idea of dating a rich guy (yet another unpopular opinion I hold). Lack of money can bring misery but having so much that you become way too smug and comfortable can bring even more misery. I think, ultimately, the idea of having a lot of money scares me, so I feel more comfortable with men who don't have much. Even so, is it too much to ask to organize your funds just a little bit better? I guess for some, it is...